|2007-10-04 Articles |
|City Misleads Taped Leaders, Part 41|
Cops in Black & White by Jerry Bledsoe - Part 41
|October 04, 2007|
On Tuesday afternoon, April 18, 2006, word began to spread from anonymous sources that a hot new development in the Police Department scandal would be unveiled at the City Council meeting that was scheduled to begin at 5:30.
Few people had any idea what that might be.
Many things had changed since David Wray had handed in his quit-or-be-fired resignation on Jan. 9, 2006. Tim Bellamy had been appointed acting chief. James Hinson, whose claim of "secret police" targeting black officers because of race set off turmoil inside the department, had triumphantly returned to duty. Hinson's lawyer, Joe Williams, had proclaimed to TV cameras at city hall that the days of the "good ol' boys" in the Police Department were gone for good.
The three white members of the Special Intelligence Division (SID), which had been branded the secret police, had been placed under investigation and transferred to lesser jobs. Retired Detective Randy Gerringer, who had been working part time in Special Intelligence and had placed the tracker on Hinson's vehicle, had been dismissed. The five-person SID unit, which at that point consisted of only two black officers, had been moved to the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) under the direction of James Hinson's friend, Lt. Brian James. (James had been investigated by SID more than a year earlier after meeting with a woman who was attempting to obtain confidential Police Department documents to sell to a drug dealer.)
The FBI had launched a probe of possible violations of black officers civil rights. And internal investigators were calling in officer after officer for grueling interviews in attempts to find criminal violations against Wray and commanders who were loyal to him, as well as all detectives who had been involved in justifiable investigations of black officers.
Speculation was rampant about what new development might be disclosed at the council meeting, but it turned out to be something completely unexpected – another supposedly grave violation by Wray's secret police – this one against people deemed black community leaders.
Waiting in the audience to speak that evening were Nelson Johnson and three of his associates. Johnson had a grudge against city government and the Police Department that went back more than a quarter of a century. He had been a leader of the Communist Workers Party (CWP) that organized a "Death to the Klan" march at a mostly black public housing project on Nov. 3, 1979. Johnson had publicly called the Klan cowards, challenged them to come to the march and warned the police to stay away. When a caravan of Klansmen arrived before the march began, demonstrators attacked the cars. A gun battle ensued in which five CWP members were shot dead.
Johnson, who hid under a car with reporters during the fight, claimed that the police, city leaders, federal authorities and Cone Mills executives had conspired with the Klan to murder CWP leaders. As the 25th anniversary of the event neared, he and other former CWP members organized a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the hope of legitimizing that premise. The commission had been less than a month away from its first hearings when News & Record columnist Lorraine Ahearn, a friend of former CWP members and a strong promoter of the commission, broke the story that black officers were being targeted by secret police because of race.
More recently, Nelson Johnson had been attempting to show that the secret police had ties to the events of Nov. 3. In January 2006, he provided the commission with a statement making startling claims.
In 1999, during former Chief Robert White's first year in office, Johnson said, White, who is black, had breakfast with him and other black ministers. At the time Johnson was leading a campaign against the city and the Police Department over the death of a young black man years earlier. In 1994, while Sylvester Daughtry, Greensboro's first black police chief, was in office, Daryl Howerton, nude and flailing a knife, had been shot as he advanced on two officers of Hispanic descent. The shooting had been ruled justified by District Attorney Jim Kimel. Johnson was demanding that the city pay $1 million to Howerton's mother after a federal jury ruled against her in a civil suit. White had defended the jury's decision and told reporters, "This case has nothing to do with race."
During that breakfast, Johnson said, Chief White confided that he had no control over a group of white officers inside the department. He called them "cowboys" and said he needed to deal with them.
"He further elaborated that if we kept pushing him publicly it would compromise his ability to ring in this group and maybe even compromise his job," Johnson wrote.
David Wray, who was White's chief of staff, said that White never told him about any group of cowboys in the department, and he thought White would have if he was concerned. Wray said he never heard anything about it from other commanders either. Without offering any evidence, Johnson went on in his statement to claim that a Klan-connected group called "In the Grace" had been operating within the Police Department in 1979 and was complicit in the murders of CWP leaders. According to Johnson, the cowboys White spoke about were an outgrowth of that clandestine group, as were the more recent secret police.
Prior to the council meeting on April 18, 2006, the Pulpit Forum, a predominantly black group of ministers of which Johnson was a leader, had staged two press conferences about the situation in the Police Department. One was on Feb. 7, the other on March 1.
At first, the group had called for the release of the "black book," which black officers originally had claimed to contain the photos of all black officers, about 100. Hinson and other black officers claimed that the book had been used repeatedly in attempts to implicate some officers in crimes. The Pulpit Forum also wanted a report prepared by private detectives from Risk Management Associates (RMA) of Raleigh to be made public. The city refused to release the black book or the report, claiming legal restrictions.
At the second press conference three weeks later, Pulpit Forum President Mazie Ferguson maintained that the RMA report "contains the names of a great number of officers, who, if the report were revealed, would be indicted." They would number, she said, in the scores. She was referring to white officers.
Reading from a statement, she went on to say, "We believe that fear of reprisals and loss of life itself is rampant among active-duty officers and that many officers do not feel safe to reveal what they know to investigators because the persons questioning them are directly involved in criminal actions." The officers living in fear of reprisals presumably were black.
When Ferguson and other black ministers were asked by a reporter if they had seen the RMA report, they declined to answer. Within a few days of this press conference, the report was leaked to the News & Record. Forensic tests conducted in the fall of 2006, after a second leaking of the report, would show that the copy of the report that was leaked had been given to Councilmember Dianne Bellamy-Small, who is black.
The likely scenario of the first leak is this: Bellamy-Small either gave the report directly to one of the dissenting black officers or to a member of the Pulpit Forum, or she left it in a spot where it was accessible but she could say she hadn't given it to anyone. Whichever group got it copied it and shared it with the other. James Hinson and Brian James were close with Mazie Ferguson and Nelson Johnson. Lorraine Ahearn had relationships with all four.
The council meeting on April 18 was opened as usual by hearing speakers from the floor. The first was the Rev. Gregory Headen of the Pulpit Forum.
"I want to impress upon you … how important it is to the community for you to exercise some real leadership as regards the issues with the secret police and the black book and those kind of things," he said. "As a leader in the African-American community I have been real concerned about whether my name is one of the names in the black book. I have heard there were three black books and you only have one now."
This was the first time that any mention had been publicly made of more than one black book or of citizens' names being in them.
Headen went on to express concern that the results of investigations by RMA and the FBI, which he referred to as "studies," had not been made public.
"It really hurts me as an African American so many years after the struggle we've been through that these kinds of things are still going on in our city and that they have a long history and I have to wonder how far these things go back. … Please stand up and don't just push this under the rug."
The second speaker was Romulus Murphy, representing the NAACP. He expressed "special concern about the so-called black book with the names of black leaders."
"The private rights of citizens have to be protected," he said. "I would caution and have some reservations about revealing names of persons in the black book. … It's called character assassination. Character can be destroyed by the simple fact that you're on some illegal and unknown list. … Respect the private rights of citizens as you go through this process. This can be a very divisive issue in the community."
These two speakers had hit on two matters on which the city leadership was withholding information that was vital to understanding what was happening in the Police Department. One was the FBI investigation.
By this point, Mayor Keith Holliday and Acting Chief Tim Bellamy had told others in private conversations that the investigation was over and the FBI had found no violations of the civil rights of black officers. Since the city manager was keeping close controls on the Police Department, it was unlikely that he was unaware of this. But most city councilmembers apparently had not been informed. The FBI does not make results of its investigations public.
Wray's lawyers, Ken Keller and Locke Clifford, also were aware of the results of the FBI's investigation, but it was not until five weeks later, when they were able to coax a letter out of the US Department of Justice, that the city finally made the information public. Even then, city leaders dismissed the findings as less important than the investigation going on within the department and an impending investigation by the SBI.
The second matter on which Headen and Murphy touched was even more crucial because honesty and dishonesty rested on it, and truth could be determined from it. That was the so-called black book. On this, David Wray agreed with the black ministers. He, too, thought that the book should be released for public examination so it could be determined who was telling the truth – himself or Mitch Johnson, Tim Bellamy and RMA investigators. He doubted that the city ever would do that because it would show his version of the story to be true.
Wray knew that the black book on which Johnson and RMA were making a big part of their case against him was nothing more than a set of standard photo line-ups commonly used by all law enforcement agencies. The line-ups had been created after a prostitute who was an informant for Vice & Narcotics officers reported to one of those officers that a black on-duty patrolman had sexually molested her in a hotel room on the pretense of searching for drugs. A computer check of all patrol officers on duty at the time produced 19 who were black males. A photo of each was placed on a sheet of white paper with the photos of five black males of similar description taken from public records. These 19 photo arrays were put in a black binder and shown to the prostitute, who was unable to pick anybody for certain.
RMA investigators seized on this investigative tool as the rumored black book, and Mitch Johnson made it a key element in his decision to lock David Wray out of his office, saying that Wray had failed to inform him about it and had subsequently hidden it. Both RMA and the city manager claimed that the line-ups had been used repeatedly in attempts to ensnare black officers in crimes. Yet RMA presented no evidence of that and a Rhino Times request to the city to provide documents showing that it had occurred was denied.
After Wray made public what the book actually was, Tim Bellamy told News 2 on Jan. 27, 2006, that there was "no evidence" supporting Wray's version of the photo array.
"We checked that system and nowhere can we find a report that fits the nature of what we've been investigating involving a police officer committing a sexual offense against a suspect," Bellamy said.
Four days later, Wray's lawyer, Locke Clifford, had a letter addressed to Mitch Johnson hand delivered to Linda Miles. The letter disputed Bellamy's statement.
"The clear inference is that Mr. Wray fabricated a story to cover some racist misuse of a photo array," Clifford wrote. "Mr. Wray was stunned by these statements, because the clear and convincing evidence refuting these statements is in your possession."
Clifford provided the name of the Vice and Narcotics detective, Jon Marsh, to whom the prostitute had made the complaint, as well as the name of the non-sworn employee, Dana Bailey, who had created the photo arrays. He pointed out that the Police Department had recordings of detectives' original interview with the prostitute as well as of the interview when she was shown the photo arrays.
Despite this letter, the News & Record reported on Feb. 8 that Bellamy still was claiming "that he has found no record of such an assault, whether in the form of a police report, a tape of the woman's statement or any previous computer search of the black officers on that shift."
Bellamy was technically correct in saying he couldn't find the records in the computer system. That was because they were not there. Some cases, particularly involving drugs, are not entered into the system until an arrest is made. That is done to protect the integrity of the investigation. The detective in charge of the case keeps the record in a working file. That was true in this case because if knowledge of the investigation became known in the department it might bring intimidation or harm to the accuser. Bellamy, however, had been a Vice & Narcotics detective and would have been aware of this.
However, records from the working file in this case had been turned over to city attorneys more than four months earlier in September 2005. They are acknowledged in the City Legal report and have been quoted extensively in this series. And the printout of the computer search for officers who were on patrol during that shift was in the front of the binder containing the photo arrays when it was handed over to RMA investigators in November 2005. [Editor's note: The full story of the black book can be read in parts 32 and 33 of Cops in Black & White available at The Rhino Times website www.rhinotimes.com.];
By the time of the council meeting on April 18, 2006, the fiction of a black book targeting black officers which had been embraced by RMA and city leaders, had grown to three black books targeting not only officers but black community leaders. David Wray considered this development to be a natural outgrowth of Mitch Johnson's and Bellamy's commitment to falsifications about the legitimately used photo line-ups and the unwillingness of the City Council to ask questions, demand facts and release those facts to the public.
The fiction of the black book also appears likely to prove costly to taxpayers. On August 2, 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) advised city officials and lawyers of black officers by letters that the black book was evidence of discrimination. These letters appear to be what some lawyers are calling "right-to-sue letters," granting permission to some black officers to sue for discrimination. The city has refused to make public material received from the EEOC.
However, the News & Record reported that Jose Rosenberg, director of the Greensboro EEOC office, wrote in one letter, "There is evidence to support that said black book was used to attempt to obtain incriminating evidence against black police officers. A review of the record shows that non-black officers were not subjected to this type of treatment."
What record the EEOC reviewed is not known. But the reports from the only investigations of the matter, from the City Legal Department and RMA, both of which offer questionable results, provide no such evidence. Wray and other commanders know of no instance in which the photo arrays were shown to anybody other than the prostitute who made the complaint, and a search by Wray to find any records that would support the position that later would be taken by RMA, Mitch Johnson and Bellamy produced nothing.
Of course, if the prostitute had described the officer who allegedly molested her as white, the line-ups would have included all white patrolmen who were on duty at that time. "Non-black" officers would have been subjected to the same treatment that the EEOC was finding discriminatory for having only black males in line-ups for which the suspect was a black male. From the little information that publicly has been made known, the EEOC appears to have conducted no serious investigation and to have come to a conclusion that is ridiculous on its face.
Nonetheless, the City Council recently met behind closed doors to discuss making payments to as many as 40 black officers based on EEOC letters that the city won't make public. The EEOC's finding could be dependant on the report prepared by the City Legal Department. That report comes to conclusions that don't match investigative records, includes altered statements, makes invalid comparisons between the treatment of white and black officers, and appears to have been designed to provide a basis for the city to pay settlements to black officers. In their report, the city's attorneys made the city a witness against itself. And Mitch Johnson's public statements about the black book made him a witness on behalf of black officers in potential legal actions against the city on spurious claims of discrimination.
Nelson Johnson was the last of five speakers from the floor at the council meeting on April 18, 2006. He stepped to the microphone and spoke in a soft voice.
"Mr. Mayor and Council, I've learned today of some unauthorized surveillance of citizens in the community and I'd like to ask this council and this mayor, do you plan for disclosure of that, and when do you plan to do it and help the community understand why these activities have been taking place?"
It quickly became clear that the council was aware that this was going to happen and that Mitch Johnson had prepared a response.
"I'd like the manager to speak to this," said Councilmember Yvonne Johnson, who is black and currently a candidate for mayor.
The city manager did not address Nelson Johnson's questions. Instead, he went into a lengthy description of the various investigations of the Police Department that had taken place or were now ongoing and spoke about the changes that had been made in the department. He said the city was in a "long involved process."
"I do not expect it to be complete for several more months," he said.
"We've worked very hard, I think, to try to communicate as much as we possibly could to the public," Mayor Holliday told the audience. "… And hopefully, when it is complete, we'll be able to bring forth some answers regarding information, adhering to North Carolina law."
Ironically, the big news coming out of this night's meeting was the council's vote to take polygraph tests in the hopes of showing whether a councilmember had leaked the RMA report. The vote was 8 to 1. Dianne Bellamy-Small cast the only no vote and called the issue "divisive."
On the next day, the city responded to Nelson Johnson's charge of "unauthorized surveillance of citizens" with a two-paragraph press release from the Police Department that only added to the questions already raised.
"During the course of the ongoing investigation into the administration of former Chief of Police, David Wray, it has been determined that a non sworn Police Department employee attended some meetings with members of the community, and recorded those meetings without their knowledge. It appears that all of the recordings were made prior to mid-January, 2006. The circumstances surrounding these incidents are unclear at this time and are under investigation.
"Prior to this news release, Interim Chief Bellamy began meeting with the members of the community who were recorded by this employee to notify them of this fact. Maintaining public trust is essential to the operation of the Police Department, therefore all individuals who were identified as having been recorded will be notified. It is also essential to insure the integrity of the ongoing investigation, therefore no further information regarding this will be released by the Greensboro Police Department until the investigation is concluded."
That was the first and last formal statement made by the city on this matter.
The following morning, the News & Record article about the recordings began this way:
"A department employee under former Chief David Wray secretly recorded and saved conversations with several community leaders, including clergy, attorneys, doctors and business owners.
"In addition, current police officials said Wednesday, that same non sworn employee attended some 'meetings with members of the community' during which discussions were also recorded.
"It is unclear whether any law was broken by the employee, whose actions were uncovered as the city investigated the now defunct Special Intelligence Section, used by Wray to surveil several officers accused of misconduct."
The article went on to reveal that Joe Williams had been one of those recorded.
"It happened in my office ... and I'm mad about it," Williams was quoted. "But I'll tell you one thing – I would not have known about it had the city not disclosed it to me."
According to this and other news reports, Bellamy had notified those who were known to have been recorded on Tuesday, prior to the council meeting. He had spoken to most by telephone, or left messages. However, he had driven to Nelson Johnson's Beloved Community Center to tell him. The only white person known to have been notified of the recordings was Jill Williams, executive director of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
"I was surprised that this would be going on," she was quoted in the News & Record article. "It definitely felt like a violation. And I was surprised to hear that the Greensboro Police Department is still engaging in actions like this in 2005."
The clear implication of the Police Department's statement and the news coverage was that David Wray's secret police not only had been targeting black officers because of race but also was targeting black community leaders for nefarious purposes.
On Thursday, April 20, Wray's lawyers, Ken Keller and Locke Clifford, issued a statement criticizing the city's actions and the Police Department's news release
"This press release continues a practice through which the City is attempting to damage the character of David Wray by releasing a 'sound bite' of information, without detail, without context, and then precluding any attempt to obtain detail," the statement said.
"We went to the City Manager, through the City Attorney, and asked the City to allow David Wray to address the City Council in private session and present the truth in the wake of the flawed RMA report. The city refused. Despite our requests, we have not been provided with a copy of the report to the City Manager which was leaked to the News & Record."
Keller spoke to News & Record reporter Eric Townsend later in the day and told him that Wray had not known of the recordings but was aware of an investigation in which a non-sworn employee participated. After the existence of the recordings was made public in the Police Department news release, Keller said, Wray had learned that recordings had been made during the investigation, but the non-sworn employee was accompanying the subject of the investigation and had no idea where she would be taken or to whom she might be listening or talking.
Keller went on to say, "We're very disappointed the city didn't just ask for an explanation rather than putting stuff out that by innuendo is damaging."
That same day, City Councilmember Sandy Carmany presented some news about the situation on her personal internet website, or blog.
"While I certainly don't have all the details – the flow of information to city council members about developments in the investigation has been significantly restricted, for obvious reasons – I will share the explanation I received from the city manager in a phone call on Monday evening.
"I do not know how long the investigators and the city manager had been aware of the existence of the recordings. No matter, but according to Mitch, it became apparent on Monday that one or more of the people who had been secretly recorded had learned of the tapes. Mitch was told that these persons planned to attend Tuesday night's city council meeting to publicly complain about the situation. It was at that point the decision was made to inform city council members about the tapes so we would not be caught by surprise as well as to inform out of courtesy all the people who had been secretly recorded."
If the Police Department ever attempted to find out who had leaked confidential information about an on-going investigation to one or more of the persons who had been recorded, it has not been made public, and Carmany expressed no concern about such a breach.
The two commanders who were in charge of the investigation and had access to the recordings were Capt. Gary Hastings, commander of Criminal Investigations, and his executive commander, Lt. Brian James.
Hastings was a member of the anti-Wray faction in the command staff. He complained to city attorneys after Wray upbraided him for making a comment that hindered a murder investigation and posed a threat to an informant.
James was one of the three primary black officers claiming they had been unfairly targeted for investigation because of race. James had been Wray's executive assistant until the previous fall. Wray had transferred him to CID partly because of concern that confidential information from command meetings attended by James was being passed on to Hinson and other black officers. James was a close friend of Hinson's and had succeeded him as president of the North State Law Enforcement Association, the black officers' group. Like Hinson, James had a relationship with Nelson Johnson.
On Thursday evening, the same day that Wray's lawyers released their statement and Carmany related her information, a meeting was held at Genesis Baptist Church. It was attended by city leaders and employees and a group of community members. Reporters were not allowed inside. The identities of city representatives at the meeting, as well as the number of community members and their identities, has never been made public. Neither has the city made known what was said at the meeting – or why the city chose to give information to only a small, select group and not the entire community.
Lorraine Ahearn wrote about this meeting in a column that appeared on Sunday, April 23.
"To say they were mad as hornets doesn't cover it," the column began. "No, in the words of one black participant at the meeting, they were, more precisely, 'madder than 40 Negroes at a Klan rally.'
"Not surprising, given the incendiary topic of the closed-door session Thursday at Genesis Baptist Church between city officials, black clergy and the Greensboro NAACP. Namely, last week's bombshell in the unfolding city police fiasco."
Ahearn made certain to mention "secret police" and "secret audios of black leaders" and closed her column by vaguely attempting to tie the recordings to the events of Nov. 3, 1979, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
"If, on the other hand, you want to talk about creating a new world, a new Greensboro without the chains of an unresolved past rattling around the present like Jacob Marley's ghost, all I can say is one thing.
"Speak into the microphone."
Ahearn was not the only one who was quick to make that connection.
In an article in Yes! Weekly on April 25, Jordan Green, another strong promoter of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, wrote that news of the recordings had "stunned many of those who had been under surveillance."
"Race – including contests for power between black and white leaders – and discomfort with efforts to examine the cause and consequences of the violence in Morningside Homes 26 years ago appear to be elements in the spying efforts. And the revelations seem to have only added to the atmosphere of subterfuge and slippery truth that has accompanied efforts by the city to unravel the skein of wrongdoing under former Chief David Wray."
Green went on to write:
"In the three-way contest to shape perceptions about the nature of the past police administration's activities, only one participant seems willing to outline a theory explaining the motive of the police spying."
That was Nelson Johnson. Green quoted him as saying this:
"It's absolutely connected with the truth and reconciliation process. It seems to me very clear that African Americans were the target of it. And so it's connected with the question of race in something.
"My own sense is that it's an attempt to get black leaders compromised, a search to find some kind of violation of the law. … It seems like it's probably not just gathering information. That doesn't make sense. I think it might be anticipating a larger unity. If you have people in compromised positions you can freeze them in place."
Wray thought that in part the city's motivation for releasing the scant information about the recordings was to reinforce the image that Mitch Johnson, City Attorney Linda Miles and RMA had tried to build of him as racist. City leaders knew, Wray believed, that if they released the information that the recordings existed, the news media would snatch it and run with it. And the result would be self-serving speculation such as that expressed by Nelson Johnson and sensationalized and misleading media reports as demonstrated by the writings of Ahearn and Green and the reporting of Frank Mickens of News 2, an advocate of the black officers' positions.
Wray knew that no black community leaders had been deliberately recorded, that none not been under surveillance and that the Police Department was not spying on any innocent citizens. What he didn't know at the time was that Gary Hastings knew all of this and had been involved in the situation at its beginning.
In his article on April 21, Eric Townsend wrote that Tim Bellamy "said he didn't know why the recordings were made."
He quoted Bellamy as saying, "The only person who can answer that is David Wray. I don't know why they did it. If they want to make a statement, let them do so."
Hastings had been briefed about the matter on March 30, nearly three weeks before the city made the existence of the recordings public.
During the following week he conducted separate interviews with the detective and non sworn employee involved in the investigation. He had been told why the recordings were made. He also had access to the contents of them, which would show that spying on black leaders was not their purpose.
Wray believed it was highly unlikely that Hastings had kept that information from Bellamy. And considering the tight reins that Mitch Johnson had on the Police Department, he considered it even more unlikely that Bellamy had not passed along the information to the city manager.
Wray felt confident that Bellamy and Mitch Johnson knew the facts about the secret recordings and were aware that there had been no spying on black community leaders well before the existence of the recordings was revealed to Nelson Johnson and subsequently to the public. Yet they had allowed the public to believe that was the case. The Police Department press release and Bellamy's subsequent statements, like the fictional black book, Wray thought, were part of a campaign of deception by city leaders that has continued to this day.
Next: The real story behind the recordings.